Living near a fast food restaurant may push us to be more impatient and can undermine our ability to savour life's simpler pleasures, according to a new study.
The study by the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management surveyed a few hundred respondents throughout the US on their ability to savour a variety of realistic, enjoyable experiences such as discovering a beautiful waterfall on a hike.
Based upon their zip codes, the researchers linked participants' responses to objective information from the most recent US Economic Census on the concentration of fast-food restaurants in their neighbourhood relative to sit-down restaurants.
The findings showed that people living in communities with a higher prevalence of fast-food restaurants were significantly less able to enjoy pleasurable activities that require savouring, even when controlling for economic factors of the individual and the neighbourhood.
The study's authors propose that's because fast food can incite people to feel more impatient, diminishing their ability to slow down and savour life's simpler joys.
"If you want to raise kids where they're less impatient, they're able to smell the roses, they're able to delay gratification, then you should choose to live in a neighbourhood where there is a lower concentration of fast food restaurants," said Sanford De Voe, an associate professor of organisational behaviour and human resource management at the Rotman School.
The researchers also conducted two experiments to evaluate whether the associations with fast food has a causal effect on people's ability to smell the roses.
Pictorial reminders of fast food in its ready to go packaging were enough to raise people's impatience and interfere with their subsequent enjoyment of photos of natural beauty or an operatic aria.
However, study participants shown pictures of the same meals on regular ceramic tableware - the kind you might use at home - showed higher levels of enjoyment when experiencing these savouring activities, researchers said.
The results "are counter-intuitive. We think about fast food as saving us time and freeing us up to do the things that we want to do. But because it instigates this sense of impatience, there are a whole set of activities where it becomes a barrier to our enjoyment of them," said DeVoe.
The findings indicate the importance of thinking more carefully about the cues we're exposed to in our everyday environments - including workplaces - and how they can affect our psychology, he said.